The Nostalgia for the Mud

Manolo says, one of the Manolo’s internet friends has asked him the question.

Dear Sir,

I’m working on a small academic paper about fashion, for presenting at the Association of Private Enterprise in Education (APEE) meeting this coming April. Virginia Postrel, who is both your friend and mine, has told me that you’re quite nice and quite classical liberal in your inclinations, so I wondered if I might ask you if you have a brief comment or two on the perennial fashion trend of extremely costly clothing made to look like garbage.

I am thinking, for example, of the Vivienne Westwood Fall 2010 Menswear collection:

Vivienne Westwood Menswear Fall 2010 Collection

Vivienne Westwood presents Derelicte!

The destroyed cotton Balmain t-shirt that you blogged on Ayyyy!

Balmain Destroyed Cotton T-Shirt

Balmain Destroyed Cotton T-Shirt; yours for only $1624!

And the Louis Vuitton trashbag purse:

Louis Vuitton Trash Bag

Louis Vuitton Trash-bag-tastic! $1960

There’s something very interesting going on here with ideas of wealth, price, value, appearance…

At any rate, if you have time to think about it a little, I’d love to know what thoughts you have.

All the best,

Sarah

Briefly laying aside the matters economic, what is going on here is what the French writer Émile Augier called La nostalgie de la boue, or the “longing for the mud”.

It is the commonplace notion that the primitive, the well-worn and tattered, even the debased are superior in essence to the refined and civilized.

This idea and emotion, as far as the Manolo knows, has been present in all societies and all places, undoubtedly since the humans first left the trees, and then longed to build the treehouse in which they could retreat on the weekends to express their inner australopithecus.

In the other words, “Keepin it real, yo.”

Nostalgie de la boue in its various guises has figured prominently in the philosophies and writings of Rousseau, Sigmund Freud, Jean Braudillard, and Tupac Shakur, among many others.

And, as fashion is the art form reflective of society and its traumas, and as it is also the business, it is only natural that the fashion houses would eagerly seek to reflect upon and profit from this universal human desire.

Of the course, the fashionistas, with the few notable exceptions, are not the deep thinkers, and so you will not find complex thoughts expressed about this idea in regards to society, history and authenticity, only variations of the phrase “I think it looks cool”.

And now, let us mock them…

Derelicte!

And, lest you think such mockery unwarranted…the Manolo gives you the Brother Sharp.

Brother Sharp

Brother Sharp, Chinese Fashion Icon

But Mr Cheng’s life changed dramatically after an amateur photographer posted pictures of him walking the streets onto the Chinese internet.

His prominent cheekbones and bohemian clothes quickly won him a legion of fans who called him “China’s Sexiest Tramp” and, most often, “Brother Sharp”.

[...]

Meanwhile, offers have poured in for him to appear in advertisements and he even did a stint as a catwalk model in the southern city of Foshan.

And now that we have established that we universally long for the mud, especially when the people who are wallowing in it are photogenic, how can we make the money from it?

This is where the Manolo must take you back to Ur, by making the reference to the work of Thorstein Veblen, and his notions of conspicuous consumption and conspicuous waste.

Throughout the entire evolution of conspicuous expenditure, whether of goods or of services or human life, runs the obvious implication that in order to effectually mend the consumer’s good fame it must be an expenditure of superfluities. In order to be reputable it must be wasteful.

Thus, if one feels the desire to wallow, and yet must maintain or build one’s reputation for being the right sort of fashionable person, one must be prepared to spend serious cash on something whose price cannot be justified by utility alone.

The fashion houses and designers know this and profit from it.

The example of the Louis Vuitton trash bag that costs $1960 for what is essentially the wan joke is prima facie evidence. It is not attractive, nor does it appear to be well made, and yet the person who has purchased it makes the undeniable statement about her status, economic resources, and knowledgeable hipness.

And now, the Manolo asks you to consider one more item

Louis Vuitton Urban Satchel

Louis Vuitton Urban Satchel, Real or Clever Joke?

If it were real, would you carry it?

25 Responses to “The Nostalgia for the Mud”

  1. pam January 25, 2011 at 4:50 pm #

    speechless

  2. The gold digger January 25, 2011 at 4:52 pm #

    The trust fund brats in their tattered clothes. Meanwhile, the truly poor people I knew in South America (I was a Peace Corps volunteer there), were careful to bathe daily, even if it meant in cold water, and kept their worn-out clothes clean and mended.

  3. daleth January 25, 2011 at 4:55 pm #

    So basically, these are the pet rocks for the rich people.

  4. Dani January 25, 2011 at 5:30 pm #

    This trend seems to be one of the most egregious forms of snobbery I have seen in a while. While obviously I have no objection to spending wads of cash on beautiful, well-made things (or I wouldn’t visit this blog), to literally spend it on trash leaves only the cost component, and strips away the beauty. Might as well just pin $100 dollar bills to one’s clothing.

  5. caia January 25, 2011 at 5:57 pm #

    Very well explicated, Manolo! I believe you may have written the meat of Sarah’s paper for her. (Unless, of course, she wishes to comment on the ethics of such behavior.)

    You mentioned to the fact that people must be photogenic to pull of this look. I wonder if this is part of the snobbery; a sort of silent claim that “I am so pretty, I could wear rags and look smoking hot. Here, let me show you.” (I could even respect that, if they weren’t spending exorbitant amounts of cash on those rags.)

    Anyone possessed of mere ordinary looks looks simply sloppy in such clothing.

    On the other hand, that t-shirt is so very destroyed, it’s clearly deliberate; if they are longing for the mud, they want to make it abundantly clear to observers that it is rose-infused mud imported from France. They’d hate to be mistaken for actual peasantry.

  6. Vicki January 25, 2011 at 6:20 pm #

    Bravo Manolo. Such irony: ‘keepin it real yo’ yet the LV trash bag that doesn’t even exist.

  7. Downunder Sugarglider January 25, 2011 at 7:07 pm #

    Hurrah for the Manolo! A triumph of a post that once again shows how this blog lives above and beyond the frippery that can be fashion.

  8. Manolo the Shoeblogger January 25, 2011 at 7:23 pm #

    Ayyy! Thank you for your kind words.

    The Caia is exactly correct, as with most ridiculous fashion, these sorts of things can only be worn by the young and beautiful.

    And to the greatest extent, this is the not-so-secret trick of the fashion show. Ridiculous and ugly clothing looks tolerable on beautiful peoples.

    Consider the Vivienne Westwood collection referenced above.

    http://projectrungay.blogspot.com/2010/01/vivienne-westwood-menswear-fall-2010.html

    As the Tom and Lorenzo say, some of the individual pieces are “great” but the overall effect of each outfit is comic…except…except…except…those handsome young men are so compelling that you begin to doubt your own taste. You begin to think that maybe, perhaps, if the Manolo loses the few pounds he might look good in the drop-crotch pants, artfully torn jumper, and the maroon fedora worn at the cocky angle.

    Yes, it would be risible on the middle aged Manolo, but does it not work on that gorgeous model?

  9. theDiva January 25, 2011 at 8:13 pm #

    First of all – no, I would not carry the trash purse.

    Second, the Vivienne Westwood. Awful, on so many levels.

    Third, I think, dear Manolo, that you should not doubt your own taste. Clearly you would look magnificent in dove-grey trousers, a black sweater, and maroon fedora worn at a rakish angle. Just not those particular dove-grey etc. etc.

  10. theDiva January 25, 2011 at 8:15 pm #

    oops. IME, the ensemble looks risible on the handsome young model.

  11. raincoaster January 25, 2011 at 8:47 pm #

    I would frame the trash purse. I have also been working on the sticky copyright issues around creating a line of “This is Not an Anya Hindmarch Bag” bags. No lie.

  12. Miss Cavendish January 25, 2011 at 9:59 pm #

    Ahh, my favourite kind of fashion writing!

  13. Nora Charles January 25, 2011 at 10:36 pm #

    Bravo Manolo! A fine essay!

    I was also struck by The gold digger’s comments about trust fund brats in tattered clothes and I agree wholeheartedly.

    Sadly it is not new but it was satirised beautifully in the 1936 film My Man Godfrey with William Powell and Carole Lombard.

    My favourite line:

    Godfrey: Very well. You belong to that unfortunate category that I would call the “Park Avenue brat”. A spoiled child who’s grown up in ease and luxury… who’s always had her own way… and who’s misdirected energies are so childish that they hardly deserve the comment, even of a butler on his off Thursday.

  14. g-dog January 25, 2011 at 10:42 pm #

    Reminds me of Monty Python’s Holy Grail (roughly ‘quoted’ below – remember the accents)
    “How can you tell he’s the King?”
    ‘He’s the one without shit all over him!’

    Possibly just the bon vivant tatter, splatter, tear or wear…..

  15. bookgirl January 26, 2011 at 12:29 am #

    Great thoughtful post, and no, i would not carry the trash bag, it too closely resembles the floor of my car after a road trip and costs much more.

  16. Erik Nabler January 26, 2011 at 2:05 am #

    Wonderful post. I said as much earlier but your spam filter, it is truly discerning and removes my posts as soon as it can.

  17. Phyllis January 26, 2011 at 6:44 am #

    But then…but then…we get something like the Dior spring 2011 haute couture collection and aspirational fashion means something else entirely.

    • Manolo the Shoeblogger January 26, 2011 at 9:58 am #

      Yes, sometimes, when we are very lucky, fashion is about beauty and our desires for transcendence.

  18. Rachel January 26, 2011 at 7:44 am #

    Does this phenomenon remind anyone else of Marie Antoinette playing at being a shepherdess?

  19. shoepoem January 26, 2011 at 11:04 am #

    Manolo has responded beautifully and with wisdom to a rather ugly-in all senses of the word-fashion trend. Personally, I never wear anything with a logo (the LV trash bag is ridiculous anyway). Why should I give them free advertising? I’ve already forked out for the product. (This goes for shopping for my children as well – yes to Gap, but not if it says ‘Gap’ on it).

  20. theDiva January 26, 2011 at 12:07 pm #

    Nora, yes. Exactly.

  21. Miss Janey January 26, 2011 at 2:59 pm #

    Excellent piece by the Manolo. Miss J went through her bum period… Of course, she actually was poor at the time. She does not feel ANY nostalgia for that time and really hates this kind of crap.

  22. Miss Eliza Wharton January 29, 2011 at 5:59 pm #

    Oh Manolo, there is more to it than mud!!
    I disagree so much I had to write a post. Here: http://whichisgood.wordpress.com/2011/01/29/punk-fashion/

    The question is: are you willing to accept that the legitimacy of good taste (whatever you take it to be, from that which determines what must universally please without concept (Kant), to the cheesy inarticulate commonsensical agreement at a given time and place which is an object of study for sociologists) as an authority judging your work.
    The classical answer in the last 150 years of western art: f**k good taste.
    Also I look hot with a touch of trash.

    • Manolo the Shoeblogger January 30, 2011 at 2:34 am #

      The Manolo agrees absolutely that it is more than the Love of Mud. It is also the quest for authenticity, the seeking of status in the Veblenian sense, and, indeed, as you have suggested, the unparalleled joy of épater la bourgeoisie.

      And now, to seize upon your mention of Kant and use him as the policeman’s truncheon to enforce the Laws of Good Taste, the Manolo must note that fashion falls emphatically into the Kantian category of pulchritudo adhaerens, dependent beauty.

      There is in clothing the concept of purpose which determines what the thing should be (the blouse, the shoes, the handbag) and consequently the concept of its perfection.

      Perfection, you say, Herr Kant?

      And this is where the Manolo does what the Kant did not do, which is produce Plato and his Forms from his hat like the magician’s rabbit.

      Ta Da!

      Transcendence!

      • Miss Eliza Wharton January 30, 2011 at 3:43 am #

        Oh my, will the delights of your conversation have no ends?
        Pulchritudo aedherens. Hmm.
        Of course, in principle, you are right. Shoes are supposed to have a purpose, to be functional. That’s where my little qualification was going: the interesting part of fashion is free from purpose. Or like ten Bhömer has it “Functionality is not important in the design approach”.
        But now it comes out too harsh. Functionality is important, but only as a constraint that allows effort to get free from it. I’ll take an example, dear to us all. High heels. Few other design features in the shoes we love is more counterproductive with respect to the purpose of the shoe (that what all that flatfeet crowd is always squealing about, warning us about the horrendous medical consequences of the heels etc.) Yet what would be shoe fashion without the heel? A sad, sad story let me tell you.
        So at the end, I’ll deny you can wrap an object like those yummy caged sandals by Choo into one concept. I would see them rather as the result of conflicting tendencies, finality with and without a purpose. As much art in it as won’t prevent them from functioning. But as much function in them as will not make them ugly.
        A balance act. Like going downstairs with 5″ heels. They’re not made for that. But you could get away. And you’re hot if you do.